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In Vietnam, Activist Group Takes a “SexyBack” Approach to Fighting Censorship

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, October 1 2013

Screenshot from the Facebook Back video parody below

You know all that witty (and not-so-witty) banter about the government shutdown taking place on your Facebook newsfeed right now? In Vietnam that would be illegal.

Since the draconian Decree 72 went into effect on September 1, citizens are banned from discussing news and current events—or really anything that does not pertain to themselves personally—on blogs or social media sites. Activists and bloggers, however, cannot capitulate to the government's restrictions, not when bloggers and citizens journalists have become the “de facto media.” That's why the pro-democracy group Viet Tan offers virtual training in cybersecurity for bloggers and activists.

“With all media outlets controlled by the state in Vietnam, bloggers are the de facto media,” Viet Tan spokesperson Hoang Tu Duy told Time. “The regime wants to squelch freedom of expression and has a litany of repressive techniques, but they will fail because of the sheer will of Vietnamese to have a voice and utilize modern technology.”

When a country bans the publication of material, even if it's as small as a Facebook comment that “opposes” the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, it is no wonder Duy says that circumventing Internet censorship “is the civil disobedience of the 21st century.”

Viet Tan teaches activists and bloggers how to encrypt messages and files, how to wipe their computers of data, and how to hide their IP address, among other useful skills. Many of their lessons are taught over Skype, although occasionally they will host a class in person. In January, 14 activists were imprisoned after going to a Viet Tan class in Bangkok. Authorities claimed they were trying to “overthrow the government.” (Did I mention the Vietnamese government considers Viet Tan a terrorist organization, even though the Unites States has found no evidence of that?)

They have also created videos aimed at a more general audience, like the “Facebook Back Music Video,” a parody of Justin Timberlake's “SexyBack.”

The video explains to citizens why Facebook has been blocked, and then encourages them to protest the block, and to explore circumvention methods. Viet Tan then links to a much longer, less musical video on how to circumvent the firewall blocking Facebook.

Other online resources Viet Tan has posted include nofirewall.blogspot.com, which Time compares to “a sort of Anarchist's Cookbook for online activists,” and mobile apps that explain how to use Tor to protect browsing and other activities on phones.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.